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International Law in Context: Historical, Sociological and Theoretical Perspectives


Admission requirements

Admission to the LL.M. Reg. public international law.


NB: this course is compulsory for international students in the Public International Law program. Dutch students take the Global Law – Interaction between Legal Systems course instead, to obtain their civiel-effect. Lectures, as opposed to working groups, are however opened to all Master’s students.

This course introduces students to international law as ‘a discipline in context’, focusing on the history, sociology and theory of international law.
In particular, the course first presents international law through a historical periodization and trains students to critically assess historical narratives about international law and its origins. Furthermore, by looking at international law as an object of inquiry rather than a discipline to practice, this course brings to the fore an array of alternative theoretical approaches to the study of international law that are necessary to examine legal questions from adequate standpoints. As such, the course trains students to identify theoretical premises and assumptions that underly international legal material, including international courts’ decisions, and to assess the implications that such approaches produce on international law.
The course thus provides students with a platform to reflect on the historical origins of international law, and appraise the interplay between international law and politics from a sociological perspective.

Topics preliminary overview:

*Law in the international community – historical and sociological perspectives
*International Relations approaches to international law
*New Haven School, Transnational Legal theories, and Legal pluralism
*Positivism and Critical Legal Studies

Course objectives

Objectives of the course

The main purpose of the course is to provide students with a thorough knowledge of alternative theories about international law in order to critically assess contemporary international legal instruments as the product of a discipline ‘in context’.

Learning objectives:
*explain the evolution of international law through different historical periods;
*assess the interplay between international law and international relations;
*apply various theoretical approaches to international law and appraise their influence on legal thinking and research.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

After successfully completing this course, students have a thorough knowledge of several alternative theories about international law and are aware of the different historical periods in the evolution of this discipline.

Academic skills and attitude:
After successfully completing this course, students are able to apply alternative theories to international legal issues and to critically assess the implications of applying a theory rather than another. Students are also able to explain the historical evolution of international law and evaluate contemporary international legal instruments against the political and social context in which they developed.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5-7

  • Names of lecturers: dr. Letizia Lo Giacco et al

  • Required preparation by students: prescribed readings


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 3-4

  • Names of instructors: dr. Letizia Lo Giacco et al

  • Required preparation by students: prescribed readings

Other methods of instruction

  • Description:

  • Number of (2 hour) instructions:

  • Names of instructors:

  • Required preparation by students:

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Final paper

Submission procedures

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

*Andrea Bianchi, International Law Theories – An Inquiry into Different Ways of Thinking (Oxford University Press, 2016). The book is also available online via the Leiden University Library.
*Further selected literature may be uploaded via Brightspace.


Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: dr. Letizia Lo Giacco

  • Work address: KOG C1.17

  • Contact information: email

  • Telephone number: +31 71 527 7593

  • Email:


  • Institute: Public Law

  • Department: Public International Law / Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies

  • Room number secretary: B1.11

  • Opening hours:

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 71 527 7713

  • Email:


In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.